Sometimes, even on a Sunday night, it’s fun to forget about the silverware and just pick up the food with your hands. Of course, whenever you eat tacos, you’ll probably do just that. But this recipe eliminates the tendency of corn tortillas to crack and fall apart on their way from plate to mouth. All you have to do is quickly warm them up in a skillet with a bit of oil, and they become pliable — the perfect wrapper for this spicy shrimp filling.
Smallish shrimp are the right size for neat tortilla eating. However, if all you can find are the big guys, cut them crosswise into pieces before sauteing them. In fact, the filling doesn’t have to be shrimp. This recipe works equally well with shredded rotisserie chicken or cubed, leftover pork chops. Just add the protein — whatever you might have on hand — to the reduced salsa and cook until it’s heated through.
The salsa starts with tomatillos that boast a bright, almost citrusy acidic flavor. It’s combined with scallions, cilantro, lime and serrano chile pepper, all of it pureed and cooked down before the shrimp are added. You can make the salsa several days ahead, which will significantly speed up the prep time when dinner beckons. By the way, if you can’t find fresh tomatillos, you can use a good-quality bottled green salsa instead.
Besides eliminating the need for silverware, the other great thing about tacos is that you are welcome to gussy them up with the garnish of your choice. Here, I’ve topped them with sour cream and cotija cheese, but you can certainly leave the dairy on the shelf. And for the finishing touch — shredded lettuce and avocado. Everyone can pile on as much as they want.
Make ahead: The salsa (without the shrimp) can be refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.
Serve with sauteed zucchini rounds and a black bean salad with lime vinaigrette.
1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters (or into sixths, if large)
1 cup coarsely chopped scallions (from 1 big bunch, white and light-green parts)
1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
½ to 1 serrano chile pepper, coarsely chopped with seeds and ribs (see NOTES)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, or as needed
1¼ pounds small-to-medium peeled and deveined shrimp
Twelve 6-inch corn tortillas
¼ cup sour cream (may substitute creme fraiche)
2 tablespoons water
¾ cup crumbled cotija, feta or ricotta salata cheese
Flesh of 2 avocados, cut into chunks
Shredded lettuce, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Have a rimmed baking sheet at hand.
Combine the tomatillos, scallions, cilantro, lime juice, serrano (to taste) and garlic in a food processor; pulse until the ingredients are almost smooth, with a few small chunks. The yield is 2¾ to 3 cups.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, reduce the heat to medium, add half the shrimp and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring until they are pink and firm but not cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl. Repeat with another tablespoon of the oil and the remaining shrimp. You’ll be using this skillet again for the salsa.
Line a plate with paper towels.
Heat another tablespoon of the oil in a separate, large skillet over medium heat. Once that oil shimmers, add the tortillas two or three at a time; cook for about 20 seconds per side, until they are softened and hot but still pale, adding the remaining oil, as needed.
Use tongs to transfer the tortillas to the lined plate to drain briefly, then to the baking sheet, arranging them in one layer and overlapping slightly, as needed. Cover with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven (middle rack) to keep them warm while you finish the shrimp.
Add the salsa to the skillet you reserved from cooking the shrimp; cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened and slightly darker in color. Season lightly with salt. Return all the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the skillet; stir to incorporate and cook until just heated through.
Whisk together the sour cream and water in a small bowl, until pourable.
To serve, place 2 tortillas on each plate. Top each with equal portions of the salsa-shrimp mixture, drizzle with the thinned sour cream, then scatter the cheese on top. Pass a bowl of avocado and lettuce at the table.
NOTES: Tomatillos are also known as Mexican husk tomatoes.
One whole, small serrano equals about 1½ tablespoons chopped.
NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS | Per serving: 370 calories, 26 g protein, 25g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 175 mg cholesterol, 400 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Moulton is the host of “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” a public television show in its seventh season. She writes a weekly column for the Associated Press and is the author of four cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better.”